I have a habit of watching interviews or reading articles before bed and work. Words and ideas shared by leaders, motivational speakers and teachers from all walks of life.
One morning, I came across this video by Robin Sharma, Savoring Life. Savor in everything that we are engaging in.
I thought he made a very good point of how we often tell our students about being in the present (now).
How often are you thinking about emails, lunch appointments, breakfast options, checking out others’ practice while you are on the mat?
So often we catch our minds running off somewhere else. It is as though we are the most boring person on earth that we can’t even bear to spend a moment to sit with ourselves.
I’ve observed too many students going through the motions on the mat because they think they have to (including my own practice!).
But why do we often do things half- heartedly?
Why do we always feel the need to rush to complete a task and often miss to experience the process?
Have you noticed that you usually patronize the same café every morning? You walk into the café looking forward to a cup of handcrafted coffee. You take a moment to enjoy the aroma before taking a sip. In that short period you probably felt a sense of ‘simple joy’. And you may even think, ‘Ahhhh! Happiness can be so simple.’
Why would you make an effort to buy that cup of coffee from the café when you can make it at home?
Probably because you appreciate the barrister who puts full attention just to make a worthy cup of coffee just for you.
Bring that same appreciation of yourself on the mat. Learn to see yourself as the person who is paying full attention to your own practice.
When was the last time you were totally with yourself doing the practice?
That you were not thinking what’s behind or searching what’s ahead. You are simply riding on the flow of your breath through the whole practice.
Savor your practice; Taste every sweetness and bitterness; any flashes of excitement or dullness; For not a moment you spend with yourself is ever wasted, When you savor every up and down of your practice.
We first met Shan Shan at the Ashtanga Yoga Conference in Bali. We were attracted by her bubbly personality and enthusiasm towards the practice. After a decade of corporate world experiences, she started An Uplifted Day – an online boutique stocking curated essentials to help women have a better day.
She is one inspiring and dedicated Ashtangi who shows up on her mat with a zest for life. Here are her very real and insightful perspectives on the practice.
1. How did you discover Ashtanga Yoga?
I first started Ashtanga Yoga around March 2009. It was at The Yoga Shala Singapore where I still practice today and with the very same teachers I started with!
About 6 months before that I tried Hatha Yoga for the very first time at a studio near my home. I was hooked after the first class. I soon booked a trip to the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India for a yoga holiday.
I mentioned to my roommate at the ashram that I liked Sivananda because the practice was the same every time. She suggested that I also check out Ashtanga Mysore style. That was the first time I heard of Ashtanga.
When I got back to Singapore I googled some Ashtanga videos and found The Yoga Shala Singapore online. The rest is history!
2. How has the practice supported / changed your life?
I think one of the greatest benefits of having a dedicated Ashtanga practice is that it forces you to prioritize and focus on the things that truly matter and nourish you.
Having a dedicated practice takes up plenty of time and you become more discerning about what you choose to do, eat, who to spend time with and even what you watch on TV.
To sustain a practice, you realize that there is no space for time and energy-sucking situations and you gradually learn to detangle yourself.
The end-result is a more fulfilled life aligned with who you are and what you want. Your life will be filled with more of the relationships and activities which bring you joy.
3. What are some of the challenges you faced over the years of practice?
For me the mental challenge has always been harder than the physical challenge. There are some poses (ahem, kapotasana) that I just do not like. Every day it’s still a battle with the fear and reluctance to get into these poses.
I’m also trying to make my practice more meditative these days. I am learning to be present with each breath, to simply accept and not respond to all the emotions and thoughts which can arise during practice.
Unfortunately it’s not very fun on days when your mind decides to act like a tantrum-throwing toddler.
4. How do you find time to balance between work, practice and everything else? (We know you just launched your own business!)
Ha! I don’t! But I’ve come to a point where I’m starting to feel that it’s ok.
After a decade in the corporate world I started my own business www.anupliftedday.com, an online boutique stocking curated essentials to help women have a better day. It was inspired by how busy and fast-paced life is in Singapore and how having the right things can help you have a better day.
When it’s your business, it’s a little harder to separate between work and the rest of your life. There have been days where I’ve woken up to go the shala, gotten dressed and decided to respond to some emails. I got lost track of time and did not make it to the shala – all still in my practice clothes.
I think the key is not to be so hard on yourself if you have to skip a practice or even stop for a while. The practice should support your life and not the other way round.
Practically a good trick is to plan all evening work calls and social engagements on the eve of moondays or your rest day.
And above all, always be grateful. It is a privilege and a real blessing to be led to the Ashtanga Yoga (or any other spiritual practice or passion). When you find yourself being overwhelmed, be thankful that this is a good problem to have.
5. How do you keep yourself motivated with the practice?
Unless it’s a special occasion I don’t meet my friends or attend anything on evenings before I practice so that I can get to bed on-time. It’s taken some time to enforce this discipline but it really helps to develop a consistent practice and saves you from agonizing over whether you should be out or not.
I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t spending enough time with my friends and family but soon realized that practicing actually makes me a better wife, daughter, sister and friend even if I might not be able to hang out all the time.
I always pack my bag and clothes the night before so it’s easier to get up and out of the house in the mornings.
Having the right diet for your body type and not over-eating also helps as you will feel less sluggish and more energetic.
But the best way to show up consistently on the mat is to recognize that the days when I practice are always sweeter, lighter, kinder and more productive than the days I do not. If you want a joyful, fulfilled and compassionate life, keep this end-goal and feeling firmly in mind and you’ll naturally be guided to do what it takes to get there.
Ashtanga is not something we have to do. It’s something we’re blessed to do!
Anyone who practices yoga has likes and dislikes about certain poses. It is easy to like poses that you are good at. What is challenging is to like the poses you dislike because ironically these are the ones that will give us the breakthrough we need.
When practicing our non-favourite poses we are being brought out from our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory. Most of the time it is because of the discomfort and pain that we experience.
Why would anyone enjoy the unpleasurable experience when practicing (yoga) is supposed to make us feel better or so we think. Despite the saying ‘no pain, no gain’, we don’t have to push through the ‘pain’. Instead, yoga challenges us to work through these uncomfortable moments intelligently and wisely.
When we dislike a pose it can translate into a deeper meaning.
The inability to do the pose, the pain accompanying the pose and the discomfort of being in the pose. Sometimes the mere thought or mention of the pose itself can also create fear. Fear of falling, injuring yourself, breaking your bones and overstretching your muscles.
The important lesson is to understand why. Why do you not like certain poses?
Try asking yourself these few questions: Why do I not like this pose? What am I learning from this pose? How can I get better in this pose? Is there another way I can approach this pose?
Whatever your reason is, learning to overcome this uncomfortable feeling or emotion can help us grow both in your practice and personal life. Sometimes the thing we dislike (to do) most is often the very thing we need to transform our lives.
Life’s so ironic. It takes sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence & absence to value presence. – Unknown
Unassuming, humble and dedicated – Lakshmi has devoted her past 10 years to the Ashtanga Yoga practice. We have witnessed first hand how she coped with having young active Rishab in Mysore. She opens up in a very rare interview with us on her practice journey and struggles to come to the practice as a devotee, daughter, wife and a loving mother.
1. How did you start practicing Ashtanga Yoga? As a child, I have always been intrigued watching my father and my maternal grandfather practice yoga asanas. I am grateful to my family for giving me a sense of understanding at a young age that yoga is way beyond asanas. It is a system of practice that my family approached for health and well being; for healing and spirituality; with joy and integrity day after day.
I was sometimes mesmerised watching especially my grandfather expertly weave one asana into another effortlessly for hours to an end. He was a very kind and compassionate man. I was but forced to connect the dots and as I grew up this intrigue stayed with me.
I was on an apprenticeship program in India via NTU during my Masters’ degree for a few months in the year 2006. At the time, one fine day there was a half page article in an Indian newspaper about Ashtanga yoga with a picture of Sharathji right in the middle of it all.
In retrospect, it almost feels as if all of this cosmos arranged for me to read that article and I did. I was in Bangalore at the time and was fortunate to study with Sharmilaji – Sharathji ‘ s sister for a few short months before returning to Singapore.
It was then that I met James at The Yoga Shala and continued my study in Ashtanga Yoga with him until 2007. I was working full time, but practice, as I quickly learnt, was what gave me the tools to face corporate rigour at the time. And I was hooked before I knew it.
2. How has the practice supported / changed your life? What the practice taught me from the beginning was a sense of purpose in whatever I did. It taught me to understand my strengths and limitations. It has taught me to choose the battles to fight and to not nitpick on small things that appear big enough to warrant attention.
Also practice illuminates the urgent need for compassion and patience. I practice not because practice solves all my problems, but for the clarity that it brings to approach day to day situations which are all unique every single day. Be it as a mother, wife, friend, anyone.
3. What are some of the challenges you faced over the years of practice? Being born in an Indian family brings with it the rigour of being a self imposed achiever of some sort. Soon after I found the practice a sense of lack of purpose over ‘achievements’ clouded over me. I was starting to look at things more holistically and there were shifts in my perspectives.
It came as a natural family decision to give up the corporate job after the birth of my son. That made my practice transform in a big way. My duties as a wife and mother were in my view an important part in the path of yoga to create a nurturing and nourishing home.
Even though my asana practice was on a mode of pause for several years after that (until 2013), my miniscule yoga experience left lasting impressions in my mind. I couldn’t wait to get back on the mat after all those years again.
4. How do you keep yourself motivated with the practice?
This one can be challenging – but one fine day realization dawned on me that I wouldn’t get along with me if I didn’t practice. What to speak of people around me!
5. Can you share with us tips /ideas on how to sustain the practice? Having an all or nothing approach to practice, I have realized, makes it almost impossible in modern times in a nuclear family to keep practice alive, where we cook all meals from a scratch, clean, involve ourselves in our childrens’ school work and work on community projects.
During spaces in time when life has an agenda, I have learnt to accept suryanamaskara (Sun Salutation) and finishing as nourishing enough to help me sail through the phase.
We slot in 2 bonus questions as Lakshmi has just been given Level 1 Authorization by Sharath (after making multiple trips to devote her time to the practice.)
6. How do you feel about being Authorised by Sharathji? In all honesty authorization was never an objective for me. Studying at the source became an integral part of the practice for me; providing me with experiences to deepen the practice. One day as I was leaving the shala Sharathji brought up the topic of authorization. It left me humbled and in deep reverence and gratitude for the practice and my teachers.
7. How has the authorization impact you or your practice in any way? In my view every student I assist is my teacher too. I learn so much from each of them everyday.
Lakshmi is currently apprenticing at The Yoga Shala with James and looks forward to continue her annual studies with Sharathji at KPJAYI for the years to come. For her the learning never stops. Being authorized is just the beginning of another new chapter to share her knowledge about the practice with other inspiring practitioners out there!
The way you practice. The inner dialogue with yourself. Your breath. Your movement. How you handle your challenges. How you overcome the blocks and obstacles. The practice mirrors your inner reality.
Some people feel limited by their ‘abilities’. They like to pre-warn others what they cannot do (keeping in mind that this is different from having pre-existing medical conditions or injuries) and often the practice is like going into a ‘battle-field’.
Some people think they can do more than what they are given. They like to take on as many poses as possible because for them it is a sign of progression, never mind whether they are doing it correctly or not. More is better.
Some people are perfectionists. They want to be perfect in every single pose. There is no room for ‘wrong’ alignment.
Some people only want to practice because they enjoy the benefits from the practice. They are dedicated, committed, devoted and disciplined.
Regardless what your mental state is, the physical struggle is the same. We all go through the same roller coaster – the emotions are different but the process is the same.
How do we choose to deal with our inner ‘demons’ – the critics, the judgments, the ego, the stories, the lies, the ideology etc?
The more you practice the more you learn to appreciate the sense of peace and inner calmness it brings you. Your body knows exactly what needs to be done but it is the mind that is constantly chattering away.
Sharath mentioned during one of the conferences to practice dhyana (mindfulness and awareness) – to remain calm, focused, unaffected by external distractions – gossip, temptation, social media (unless it serves a good purpose).
Regularity and consistency in the practice will help cultivate steadiness and stability in our modern chaotic lifestyle. Don’t take shortcuts if you want to improve your practice.
Every obstacle you encounter on the mat provides you with an opportunity to overcome the physical and mental block. In a subtle way, it will also mirror back into your daily life challenges. Do you notice a similar pattern?
Be steadfast. Be patient. Real yoga comes from within. True transformation often happens off the mat.